To quote Forest Gump with a little editorial license: “Life (in a contact centre) is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” There is no way of knowing what mood the next caller on the line will be and what type of query they may have, and in part this is what makes working in a contact centre both interesting and challenging.

Agents need to have the knowledge and skills to adapt the conversation with each customer query and this is where soft skills are highly valuable.  Knowing what to say, and how to say it, or even what not to say is key in creating a positive customer experience for the caller.

It starts with listening and acknowledging

Stephen Covey said: ‘Seek first to understand and then be understood’. Listening without interrupting is key. Once you understand their view point acknowledge it. Apologise quickly and sincerely if you need to take the sting out of the situation.

Amazingly, once we can move onto the solution certain words have the power of injecting positivity and energy into a conversation. It may seem cheesy, but think in terms of an enthusiastic cheerleader. What words would they use? How about: “Fantastic. Perfect. Absolutely. Definitely. Certainly. Great.”

Now let’s consider a few positive phrases: “I’d be glad to…” “That’s a great question….” “You’ve certainly made a good choice…” “Absolutely, it’s a pleasure…” “I appreciate your patience…” “That’s perfect, thank you…” When reading these words and phrases you can’t help but feel more positive and this is why it is so valuable to use them in customer conversations.

Does tone matter?

A lot can be communicated by the tone of a person’s voice. Words may say one thing but if the tone doesn’t match it could communicate an entirely different message. Ideally, soft skill training should include learning how to use a calming tone without being patronising. Coming across as positive, energetic and genuinely pleased to be talking to the customer is what will win them over in most instances.

Dealing with angry customers takes special skill, because reacting aggressively or indifferently will only serve to fuel the fire and flowery enthusiasm will probably only irritate them. Angry customers want to be heard and know that someone will take action, so a firm but positive tone is more likely to get their attention.

Why empathy wins

Of all the soft skills, empathy is probably one of the most important. When customers have a problem, they want to know that there’s someone on their side. When agents communicate with empathy it gives the customer confidence that they are in fact being heard.

Using phrases such as “I can understand how frustrating that must be, let me help you….” or “No wonder you’re unhappy with the situation, let’s see how we can help…” or “If that had happened to me I’d also be disgruntled, but let’s see what solution we can find…” communicate to the customer that someone cares and understands their perspective. Followed by a positive phrase it immediately gives hope that a solution is possible and this is what customers really want.

Action phrases

Customers call in because they are looking for a different outcome to what they have already experienced. Sometimes they communicate clearly what they want, but other times it’s up to the contact centre agents to figure out what might be an acceptable solution. Whatever the case it’s important to communicate that action is being taken to resolve the query otherwise the customer may think they are wasting their time.

Positive action phrases may include: “If you can hold for just a minute, I’m going to speak to the admin department right now…” “I will ensure that accounting issues a credit note…” “I have just emailed you the form that you need…” “I will email you the link to the guidelines you need…” Communicate clearly what action is being taken to resolve their query.

Avoiding the blame game

Sometimes customers do have some responsibility in why things went wrong but a cardinal mistake is to blame them or make them feel stupid in any way. Phrases to avoid include: “You should have…” “I’m sorry but you don’t have…” “Why did you do that….” And the classic: “You are through to the wrong department…” If customers log a query they already have a problem, the last thing they want to hear is that somehow it’s their fault.

Instead of pointing out the mistake, even if it’s obvious, a better approach is to briefly highlight the issue and then propose a solution. Instead of saying “You’ve supplied the wrong information…” a more positive approach would be to say: “I’m not sure we have all the correct information needed, can I run through it quickly again to update the system?” Use neutral language rather than “you” or “your” because this focuses on the problem rather than whose fault it is.

Remember that customers are just people and sincerity is always appreciated. Treat customers as people not problems and not only will customers have a better experience, agents too will find their work more rewarding.

For access to our training  in this area please contact us on 020 7871 9797 or email